Finding facts and information has been made very easy by Google. Adults and children alike know that if you need to know anything you just Google it. In fact, Google has become a verb that is used instead of the word ‘search’. Google has been designed to satisfy the itch of curiosity and the need to know. However, by making it so easy to find things, the link between effort and mental exploration is diminishing, especially because search has become so specific that you might not stumble across anything beyond that which you are seeking. Before Google, in the ‘old days’, if you were researching something in an printed encyclopaedia, the likelihood of you landing up reading about the entry before of after the one you needed, was highly likely, expanding your knowledge base unexpectedly and incidentally.
Google is great for helping you to uncover some of the dots in response to a specific content enquiry, but it doesn’t necessarily help you to connect the dots to create meaning or bridges between pieces of information. This is a process that requires an element of curiosity and some inherent knowledge.
If you have been reading my last few blog posts you will realise that I am a fan of Ian Leslie’s book, Curious (Quercus, 2014) because it echoes my commonsense thinking around the risk and the promise of technology, and in this case, Google. Leslie says that by making it easier to find things there is a threat to deeper enquiry. Today’s children are used to instant gratification even when they are searching for information, wanting satisfaction NOW. Do bear in mind that this is the generation who are used to highly distracting and absorbing, fast-moving content in technicolour on the screen of their choice, anywhere, anytime. The average shot in a US movie is now 2 seconds long vs 27.9 seconds in 1953. In my Connecting With Children Through The Noise & Clutter presentations I remind those who are old enough to remember, just how slow cowboys used to draw their guns in Western movies. Today’s children would be yawning or even asleep before the trigger was pulled because you can literally count to 30!
If our kids rely on Google for their general knowledge, it is at their fingertips and not their heads. How useful will that be in the middle of a conversation, a job interview or a briefing meeting with a client one day? “Sorry, uh, I’m not sure on what continent that city is, let me just Google it quickly so that I know where you are talking about.” Duh!
Knowing stuff has a place
Don’t get me wrong, Google is a brilliant resource and I use it alt the time. However, I really do believe that children still need a good basic general knowledge stored in their heads, from practical knowledge such as knowing the colours of the wires in a plug (this is just a silly, but useful, example), of basic types of trees and plants, iconic structures, people who changed the world, inventions, continents, countries, capital cities etc. Current affairs can be helpful pointers here with the addition of Googling for detail. This is a great way to get the best out of Google. Why not play a general knowledge game such as Trivial Pursuit or a BrainBox game and add Google to that as an extension activity to dig for further information.
Our children also need to read literature, not just non-fiction. When your kids are young, please read to them and encourage reading for pleasure as they get older. There are multiple benefits to reading non-fiction from stimulating their imagination and fantasy thinking to building descriptive language and good use of grammar. Non-fiction also contain layers of meaning that cannot be acquired by reading magazines on fashion or fishing.
Push them out of their comfort zone to stimulate learning
All of this is important for stimulating curiosity and thought. Our kids need encouragement to think about their own thinking. As adults or teachers in children’s lives we need to find ways to challenge the way our children think and learn. Sometimes we need to consciously put obstacles in their way to make learning a little more challenging, and more interesting, rather than making things as easy as possible so that they don’t have to think too hard. Diversions make them go from A – Z by going via B, H, Q and T on the way, and you never know how those stopping points may uncover interests and passions that may have lain dormant for a lifetime. Incidental learning can have some incredibly powerful unintended consequences and this is the adventure of life, of stepping into the unknown and being up for new discoveries that make us more and more curious about our world.
Curiosity is an important precursor to creativity and innovative thinking. These are the traits that businesses will pay a premium for in the future – they need employees who can come up with fresh new ideas. Make sure your kids know how, when and why they should use Google – it has it’s place. But, make sure they are not dependent on it for everything – that it’s not where their their general knowledge begins and ends. They need to know and absorb stuff in their very brilliant brains by actively increasing their own ‘cognitive bandwidth’, beyond just knowing that information is but a key strike away.